Winslow Hall Asylum (1865-8)

Dr Theodore Boisragon Turns Winslow Hall into a Private Asylum for Lunatics

by Ed Grimsdale

Duddleston Hall c1954Theodore was the son of Dr Henry Charles Boisragon who was a leading G.P. and distinguished citizen of Cheltenham when, as the Cheltenham Looker-On recorded, that town was "the Queen of Watering Places".  Dr. T.S.G.  Boisragon took over as proprietor and manager of Duddleston Hall Private Asylum (see photo, right) near Birmingham in March 1857. The Midland Counties’ Herald reported that "educated at Bedlam, and having been the superintendent of the Asylum in Norwich, as well as that in Bodmin, in Cornwall, the advantages and experience of Dr Boisragon no doubt qualify him for this important position, demanding as it does so great a combination of knowledge, experience, and kindness." Theodore’s distinguished father had died in 1852 and had probably left his son a tidy sum of money.

Henry Boisragon, born to a French Huguenot family that was exiled during the reign of Louis XIV, had been a social reformer and had helped to form the Cheltenham Female Refuge in North Parade – one of the first such bodies in Britain. Dr Henry Charles Boisragon became Physician Extraordinary to King George IV as well as treating wealthy private patients who included the Duke of Wellington and Lord Byron.

It may well be that the industrialisation of the district around Duddleston Hall in the 1860s caused by the spread of burgeoning Birmingham was the reason that Dr Boisragon chose to move his asylum in 1865 to the quietude of Winslow Hall that had become vacant when Dr Lovell and his school left. The move was not without problems - he needed a licence for his proposed Asylum for 30 patients and that was opposed because the authorities demanded separate entrances for male and female inmates. The owner of Winslow Hall, William Selby-Lowndes, was not keen on having his neat structure wrecked by such a conversion. Eventually, Dr Boisragon was allowed to go ahead after giving assurances that he was experienced in dealing with mixed groups of patients. 

Dr Boisragon and penny readings in Winslow

Dr Boisragon joined in activities in Winslow. In September 1866, a meeting was convened at the George Hotel, preparatory to establishing penny reading entertainment at Winslow. In the words of the Bucks Herald, "the meeting was attended by the clergy and most of the leading gentlemen and trades people of Winslow". Dr Boisragon took the chair and was elected President of the movement. It was reported that "a first-rate programme of readings and vocal and instrumental music has been drawn up to tempt the solitude-loving inhabitants of Winslow from their retreat."

The meetings were held in the Boys’ School and proved to be very popular. Unfortunately, the sixth one (full to overflowing) was interrupted by a disturbance, and the "penny admissions" were suspended for the next two meetings as "it was hoped that the temporary exclusion of a certain clique will, in the future, have a salutary effect."

In December, 1866, Dr Boisragon threw open the doors of the Hall, a rare occurrence that was welcomed by denizens of Winslow:

Bucks Herald, 22 Dec 1866:

CONCERT - On Monday evening last a vocal and instrumental concert was given in the large room at Winslow Hall. The room was nicely decorated with artificial flowers, which had a very pretty effect when contrasted with the rather sombre colour of the walls. The lighting of the room was excellent, being effected by three stars pendant from the ceiling. With the exception of a slight inconvenience in obtaining the proper seats (as numbered by the tickets) the whole was well arranged and carried out to the satisfaction of both the audience and  performers. The visitors comprised the elite of the town and neighbourhood, and most of the available back space was taken up. The programme, which was of the usual character, was ably executed by Miss M. Barton, Miss Curtis, Mrs Dockray, Mr C. Boisragon, Miss Lake, Dr. Boisragon, Mrs C. Boisragon, Mr Thompson, &c.

One wonders what happened to the asylum’s inmates during that evening? Mr & Mrs C. Boisragon were Mr Conrad G. Boisragon, retired artist from Cheltenham, and his wife Hannah. They were excellent singers and musicians, and Conrad had appeared professionally in operas staged in London during the 1840s under one of his pseudonyms Conrado Borrani.

Later, the Bucks Herald records that Dr Boisragon gave a “short, pithy speech” whilst chairing a Penny Reading meeting at the end of February 1867. Such entertainments included piano music and songs as well as readings of stories and poems. One reader that day was the Vicar of Winslow, Rev. Preston. The paper concluded that the meeting was not as well attended as earlier ones in the series. The season’s final meeting in March ended on triumphant notes sounded by the group’s Secretary, Mr Willis and Dr Boisragon, its President and all stood to sing The National Anthem.

Advertisements like this one for the Asylum appeared in Jackson's Oxford Journal (13 April 1867)

This Private Asylum, fitted with requisites for the care and comfort of the Insane of both Sexes, is in a healthy, cheerful situation, on the Oxford Branch of the London and North-Western Line. — Particulars respecting terms and forms of admission may be obtained from the Resident Proprietor, Dr. Boisragon.

We must presume that the move to Winslow was unsuccessful. Perhaps, few of Dr Boisragon’s patients made the move or he wasn’t able to attract sufficient clients to make a financial success of his venture. The local courts renewed the asylum’s licence in 1867 but in 1868 these advertisements appeared in the Bucks Herald (9 May):

Important Sale of Valuable Household Furniture,
COMPRISING the entire contents of the MANSION,  and consisting of Handsome Dining and Drawing Room FURNITURE, bedroom appendages, about 80 feather beds and mattresses, 30 iron and other bedsteads, a large quantity of bed linen and blankets, Brussels and other carpets, excellent semi-grand pianoforte, capital billiard table, garden and farming tools, &c.,
On WEDNESDAY and THURSDAY, MAY 13th and 14th, 1868,
On the Premises, at Winslow Hall, Bucks,
By direction of Dr. Boisragon, who has given up his Establishment.
  THE FURNITURE comprises the contents of four drawing, dining and breakfast rooms; several anterooms, 20 bedrooms, the domestic offices; laundry, containing a capital washing and mangling machine, garden chairs and tools, and a large variety of very useful effects.
  The whole will be Sold without reserve, and in consequence of the number of Lots, the Sale will commence each day punctually at Eleven.
The whole may be Viewed the day prior to the Sale.
  Catalogues may be had at the Inns in the Neighbourhood, and of Messrs. Dudley and Son, Auctioneers and Land Agents, Winslow.

The abrupt sale without reserve of all the household effects parallels on a smaller scale the Great Sale at Stowe in 1848, when the Duke of Buckingham became the first duke to be declared bankrupt. Theodore Boisragon must have been facing a similar grave crisis.

Thereafter, Dr Boisragon and his asylum disappears from the scene in Winslow. Little more is heard of him although he was licensed in 1870  (as an associate of the distinguished Dr Forbes Winslow) to run the twin Sussex (middle-class men) and Brandenburgh House (gentlewomen) Asylums in Hammersmith. The death of Theodore Smith Gurenstone Boisragon was registered in the Parish of St George, Hanover Square, London in July 1881.

Epilogue based on census returns

The 1871 census has Mr Conrad G. (Gascoigne) Boisragon (retired artist, and younger brother of both Theodore and Charles of the Army in Bombay, India) living in some comfort in Ammount Lodge, Western Lane, Winslow (roughly where Box Cottage is now). Fredericka M. Kearsey (a lunatic patient) and her nurse, Elizabeth Harback, are included in their household. Conrad (56 y.o.) and his wife, Hannah (72 y.o.) mounted musical, and then excellent operatic performances in the Bell Hotel, and then Mursley until 1873 when they probably moved from the district. In the 1881 census, their surname has changed to Boisrayne, and they are living in South Norwood, Croydon. Hannah died in Croydon in 1888 and her husband followed her in 1891.

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Copyright 26 November, 2022